The Business of Screenwriting: Low-budget filmmaking [Part 3]

November 15th, 2012 by

Two weeks ago, I shared the story of a low-budget indie film script I wrote called “Snowbirds”. You can read that post here. Using a set of production guidelines (e.g., 90 page script, 4-5 week shoot, no more than 10 actors, 1 primary location), I wrote a script which Trailblazer Studios acquired to produce.

Last week I recounted how we moved into pre-production and locked in some excellent talent including Academy Award winning actress Brenda Fricker, actor Bernard Hill, and other notable actors, but due to a variety of reasons, the company halted production. You can read that post here.

Today’s post: Let’s start with the concept of turnaround. Simply put, when a studio or producing entity puts a project they have acquired into turnaround, it means that the project can be picked up another entity. Typically the second party has to pay costs incurred by the first party.

Long story short: This year, I obtained the rights to “Snowbirds” in turnaround which means I own it free and clear.

Why? Because I believe in the story, now more than ever.

Here’s why:

* The target audience — mothers, 40s-50s, parents of teen-adult children, children of senior citizen parents — is a huge demographic group.

* I have tested the script with dozens of women in this target demo. The response to the story has been universally strong.

* “Snowbirds” slots into the same arena as Little Miss Sunshine, The Kids Are All Right, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, drama with comedy aimed at the indie adult crowd.

* There are 35 million RV enthusiasts in North America, representing an ideal viral community, literally moving from one shared destination to another.

* I’m having the script budgeted and it looks like it will come in at $500K. That translates into about $1.5-2M B.O. to reach break-even, a doable figure.

* As a multigenerational story, “Snowbirds” could reach beyond the target demo to younger audiences.

* Shoot it in New Mexico and benefit from the state’s film tax credits.

* The script has already attracted serious acting talent, so we know the story has merit.

Making a low-budget indie movie is a risk. I believe “Snowbirds” is worth it.

The larger point is this: Getting any movie produced is a long shot. Getting a low-budget indie film is even longer.

If you are intent on writing one, you have to put on your producer’s hat and think about everything that way, from budget to marketing, production to distribution.

Final observation: Just because you may be writing an indie feature does not mean you can ignore the importance of working with strong story concepts. The world has changed. Consumers are assaulted by thousands of entertainment opportunities nowadays. In order to cut through the noise, a low-budget film with a clear, clean high concept can make the difference between a movie that gets produced, and one that doesn’t.

4 thoughts on “The Business of Screenwriting: Low-budget filmmaking [Part 3]

  1. That’s terrific, Scott. Congrats on getting the rights to the script! Best of luck moving forward with this project. Obviously you’re passionate about it and that’s contagious when looking for talent.

  2. David Joyner says:

    I found this series fascinating. Thanks for writing out and sharing the whole story.
    I’m curious about the budgeting process and the distribution process. Without going into too many details, how does one come up with the 500K and the 1.5M-2M figures? Is it arrived at by comparison to similar movies which you happen to know the fanacials for, or is there real number-crunching involved?

  3. I’ve got a very similar project, but in the revenge thriller genre with supernatural overtones. I main interior locale; many of cast don’t have dialogue, so it’s about getting reaction shots and visual actions taken over talky talk scenes; lotsa of low light and shadowy shots, so high production / glamorous-looking shots aren’t called for; hits the demo groups of teens, college age and 30s-50s; and it has a strong visually – driven narrative, so it transfers easily across global – cultural boundaries as well as hitting the genre, graphic novel and dark comic book audience groups.

    It really is about looking at every possible penny spent and numbers crunching as well as storyboarding all exact shots, so you know exactly what you want and need and can get.

    I producer thinks it can be done for 200 k – 800 k; another thinks it can be done for 1 – 2 mil.

    Lotsa variables, but if the heavy lifting is done in pre prod.; money isn’t wasted on the editing room floor.

    We’re casting for doing a trailer next to go with concept art, posters and some boards. Breakdown budget’s already been done by an experienced UPM. Now we know what to cut.

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